TRAI has asserted that its recommendation of allocating the 'backhaul' spectrum bands without auction will help enhance mobile phone signal carrying capacity between two towers, reduce call drops and improve voice and data quality. The Telecom Commission (TC), the highest-decision making body of the Telecom Department, is likely to meet today to decide on allocation of spectrum in V-band and E-bands.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), on whose recommendation allocation of the highly valuable spectrum is done, said spectrum in V-band and E-band even in the most advanced economies is done without auction as these airwaves are used as backhaul and not for carrying access signals to consumers.
Reached for comments, TRAI Chairman R S Sharma said the regulator had given its recommendation on allocation of spectrum in V and E bands way back in August 2014 after consulting with all stakeholders. While all airwaves used for transmitting signals to mobile phones, called access spectrum, is and will be auctioned, the backhaul spectrum for augmenting signals between mobile towers is not, he said.
"The usage of backhaul is different from the access. Access is like a cloud it is area-wise, while backhaul is from point to point," Sharma said, adding that backhaul spectrum of between 11 and 20 GHz is, even today, given on administered price only as it cannot be auctioned.
On the use of the controversial 'first-come, first-serve' (FCFS) method, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in allocation of 2G spectrum under the UPA-II regime, Sharma said there is a clear difference between access spectrum like 2G and the backhaul spectrum.
Backhaul spectrum "is a prerequisite for even offering access and its auction is "not possible.
You can't auction the access (spectrum) unless you give them promise to offer backhaul, and backhaul cannot be auctioned," Sharma said.
"You cannot have auction of backhaul spectrum, by its very nature. The nature is very high attenuation in access while backhaul involves point-to-point pencil beamsthese are the reasons for not giving it through auction," he added.
He further argued that backhaul radiowaves cannot be used by any operator as access spectrum as this spectrum has very low propagation property.
"That low propagation can be used for wifi, so we have also recommended that V band should be used in a geographical mode for providing indoor and outdoor wifi. That is basically freeWe are talking of millions of wifi hotspots that are being currently supported on two key bands -- 2.4 and 5.8 GHz this will be an additional resource available to anybody in the country which can actually use this spectrum for providing wifi services, Sharma noted.
Mobile towers typically should be connected to fibre optic but considering the right of the way and other administrative issues only 25 percent of the towers are connected through fibre today. Therefore, to enhance connectivity to backhaul, especially in the light of exponential growth in mobile data traffic, backhaul spectrum is needed, he said.
"The current available channels for backhaul are not adequate, so we need to give more spectrum which can carry higher bandwidth and they are called fibre-in-the-air, which means they can provide high throughput pencil beams," Sharma said.
TRAI had recommended that there should be light touch regulation, like many other counties in the world have done. E band should be charged at Rs 10,000 per annum per link of 250Mhz and it has also prescribed a charge of Rs 1,000 per annum per link of 50Mhz each for V band carriers.
"Even developed markets have not done an auction of this spectrum in E and V band because it is not feasible. And we said since the availability is too high, it should be given on administrative (cost route)," Sharma said, adding TRAI has therefore set per annum per link cost for E and V band spectrum.
Asked about the government stand post 2G scam that all spectrum would be only auctioned henceforth, he said: "That is for government to answer the question. But as far as we are concerned, our view is that in this band, auction is just not feasible in this case it is not feasible because of the nature of usage which is point of point, this is not area specific".
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Citing an example, the TRAI chief equated power distribution lines with access spectrum that reaches end -consumers, and transmission lines to the backhaul (tower to tower) spectrum.
"The backhaul is like transmission linesonce you have increased the capacity of distribution lines you need to also increase the capacity of transmission lines," Sharma explained.
On the need for allocating such spectrum, he said given that India's wireless data consumption per month is at 1.5 exabytes and only 25 percent of the towers are connected to fibre, there is a need to provide much larger transmission lines to augment the data explosion.